Cornfields and School Supplies

Last week, my friend, Annalisa, invited me to go with her to distribute school supplies for her organization, Eduacion con Esperanza. I jumped at the chance, of course. It was just a short, overnight trip, but I was excited to A) check out her project, B) travel a little bit and C) hang out with her.

We left on Sunday afternoon with our backpacks and a bag of supplies that hadn’t gone up with a friend the day before. I haven’t traveled longer distances on a chicken bus in many years now, so it brought back memories, climbing aboard the bus and wedging myself into the tight seats. All part of the adventure!

On the first day, we arrived at Pujijil II and were picked up by Manuel, the project leader in Solola (yep, back to the lake!). We headed to interview one of three families in a rural area where we had to walk quite a ways through cornfields. That wasn’t a problem, but the terrain was up and down. Despite living on the side of a volcano, I’m not used to hiking up and down and up and down!

After about 20 minutes, it became obvious to me that my legs weren’t going to hold out much longer. They were on the verge of collapsing and my eyesight was pretty much narrowed to directly in front of me. After passing a couple of houses with rather aggressive dogs (nothing like a bunch of snarling dogs to make those legs work!), I stopped to rest, waving everyone else on. Of course, they waited for me, but it was getting late and I didn’t want to hold everyone up.

Once we reached the top of the hill we were climbing, the guide, a local woman, pointed out the house. It was downhill and then back up again. I told them I’d stay put and wait. So I sat down, accompanied by Edgar, Manuel’s teenaged son, and we talked chickens and corn and education while we waited. It was incredibly beautiful up there, with the cornfields stretching down around us, no sounds but the occasional distant shout of a child floating up the hill and the chortling of the chickens scratching around us.

When everyone returned, we headed back to the truck. Manuel was nice enough to take pity on me and bring the truck closer so I didn’t have to walk up the last hill, which, quite frankly, may have been the death of me.

We saw two other families (thankfully much closer to the road) and headed to Manuel’s house in Solola to have dinner with his family and sort school supplies. He has four sons and a daughter, all really neat kids. His wife made a huge amount of tortillas to go with the chicken soup she served us and later left the remaining tortillas on the wood stove to crisp when she went up to bed. I had to laugh when the kids came bouncing back down the stairs and gobbled up the crispy tortillas around 10 pm. That is EXACTLY what Dorian would do!

In the morning, this was the view that met us. Amazing!

volcano

We met up with the women in Annalisa’s project. The meeting place was at the top of a steep path and I once again struggled up it, my legs not fully recovered. Word of my weak legs had preceded me, I realized, when everyone was chuckling at me as I finally made it up. Our guide from the day before was animatedly telling the story of how I’d stumbled my way up the hills the day before.

Annalisa and Manuel began to sort out the supplies and give them to the women while the children played. I particularly liked this one idea . . . a Pepsi box turned into a swing!

20160125_111522

School supplies distributed, we were ready to head home, but first, I had to use the bathroom. When I asked where it was, one of the women called out, “Half a kilometer!” and they all started laughing again. Well, it wasn’t half a kilometer, but it was down a steep path! I made it safely there and back and we were ready to jump on the bus and go home to where the boys were eagerly awaiting my return.

It was a fun trip. I have to admit that I miss traveling like I used to do, so this was a great way to get out for a bit, even just for a one night trip. Though, in the future, I will be making more trips to the area, because I’ll be working as a translator for some upcoming tours!

Blended Holidays

One of the things I love about Guatemala is the fact that everyone celebrates hard here. Life isn’t easy for most people, but they don’t let that stop them from dancing in the streets when there’s a convite or setting off firecrackers to ring in the new year, show pride in a parade or simply celebrate someone’s birth.

While bombas, or firecrackers, are heard throughout the year, the last week of December is particularly rife with them.

The bombas are just as much of our Christmas and New Year’s traditions as my more Canadian takes on the holidays. It’s been years of figuring out exactly how to blend our two cultures to create holiday traditions that are perfect for our particular family.

fireworks

Children squeal as they light volcancitos and dance away to watch the shower of sparks fly up, older kids set off the little boxes that shoot whistling fire darts into the sky and even babies clap their hands in glee when their parents light the sticks that shoot balls of glowing flames in ever-increasing arcs. It’s part of life here and, I have to admit, a fun part.

The older boys are now at the age that they want to light their own firecrackers, so we’ve selected the safer options for them, stressing the need to be careful and safety techniques. Dominic helps, standing off to the side and yelling advice like, “GET BACK!” or “Careful! You could die!”

Here are a few of our other mixed up traditions:

Guatemalan                                                                    Canadian

Eating tamales at midnight on the 24th                           Turkey dinner on the 25th

Exchanging gifts at midnight                                           Opening PJs on the 24th

Opening gifts on the 25th

Setting off firecrackers for New Year                              Watching movies and eating

Hugging everyone at midnight                                         Making New Year’s resolutions

Something I never really thought about when we started our family, was the fact that so many traditions would be so deeply ingrained in both of us. While Irving tends not to worry too much about holidays (he leaves that to me), he has specific things that he feels ought to be observed.

He would never have Christmas without his bombas to set off, for example. And it just isn’t Christmas without tamales and hot chocolate at midnight. For me, the turkey dinner is a must! And setting out a buffet for New Year’s Eve is something my mother still does and did every year that I can remember, so I feel that it’s a vital part of the holiday. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand the importance of a holiday tradition when you haven’t grown up with it, but we both have worked to make it happen for our sons.

New Year's Eve spread

This year, we were rewarded by the boys’ anticipation of most of our traditions. It was awesome to hear them talking as we decorated the tree, explaining Polar Express night to Dominic and recalling past years. They were excited about the New Year’s Eve buffet and bombas long before Christmas even came along.

What are some of your holiday traditions?

 

Welcoming 2016!

catnapHard to believe another year has passed by so quickly. It’s been a doozy, but we made it! And quite frankly, despite a large number of setbacks in life throughout 2015, I think we’ve actually come out the other side better for it all.

I know most people fuss and whine about “new year resolutions” and reflecting on the old year, etc. and that is fine, but I happen to LOVE the fresh new start of a brand new, sparkling year and so, if you’re one of those people, you might want to skip this post. ?

This is the first year that we haven’t had a single hospital visit for anyone in our immediate family! Woohoo! We have, however, made multiple ER runs with Melvin and Sofia.

2015 also marks the first year I left my kiddos and went out on my own for three nights. It went surprisingly well and we all enjoyed the little break from each other. And, this is the first year to see us as parents of a double digit preteen, since Dorian turned 10.

While it was a year of firsts, it was also a year of ends. The end of babies in our home. The end of the bakery. The end of more than a few relationships and friendships. That being said, there were also some new friends made and an old one reacquainted.

Truthfully, I feel like this has been a year of massive changes that weren’t necessarily visible from the outside. To me, it’s been months of becoming more self-aware and confident. My kids are at ages where they are more independent now and while I’d love to squash them to my side forever, I am learning to let go and let them spread their wings bit by bit as I watch, nervously, from the sidelines. But this has also freed me up to get more in touch with my real passions. And that is a good thing.

I’ve rediscovered my passion to help people Having a chance to go to the lake and work with Mayan Families and the Lake Atitlan Wellness Clinic helped me reaffirm that goal and so far we’ve delivered about $200 worth of medicines and a lot of baby clothes to the local hospital to help them out. We plan to expand on that in the coming year.

Life has many stages and for both Irving and I, it feels like we’ve moved into a new stage right now. We watch his siblings planning for and waiting for new babies and we smile at each other, comfortable in the knowledge that we’re okay with not having any more babies. Our family is growing up and . . . it’s okay. Bittersweet, but good. We’ve reached a new stage in our relationship, too. We’re able to focus on each other a bit more now that the kids are older and that has made a big difference in how we relate to each other. Hard to believe that after nearly 13 years, we still have things to learn about each other, but we do!

The shift in confidence and self-worth hasn’t just affected me. Irving has been coming into his own as a carpenter, too. He’s sold several pieces that he’s built and has become more excited about creating for others. It’s pretty neat to see!

What does 2016 hold? Who knows? Things rarely go as planned. However, I intend to learn to cook and sew better, build up my writing business and work on a couple of new projects with a friend or two. It’s going to be a good year.

Are you looking forward to 2016?

The Nest

Yesterday, we were sitting in the car while Irving ran in to the post office and we saw a bird’s nest in the post office light.

At first glance, all the kids thought it was a terrible idea for a bird to build a nest in that particular location. I pointed out that it was pouring rain . . . but the nest was still dry. They decided that it might not be such a bad idea to build a nest under a roof.

From there, the ideas began to flow!

“The lightbulb might keep the babies warm at night, when the mama has to find food.”

“Well, they’ll ALWAYS find their nest at night because it has a light!”

“There are bars on the side so the eggs can’t roll out and the babies will stay in.”

“I bet lots of people drop food on the street that they can eat.”

“The big roof is good, but the light has a roof, too. The birds will NEVER get wet!”

I found it fascinating to watch the process of going from “what a terrible idea” to “that’s a great spot!”

It also made me think that we need to use this skill in our everyday lives. How often do we think of things in a negative light? I know I’m quite the pessimist (well, I consider myself a realist, but that’s a whole other blog post)!

I think I’m going to try and apply this positive twist thinking to other areas of my life.

What Do You Miss From Home?

If you’d asked me this question when I’d been in Guatemala a year, I could have given you a loooong list of things I missed terribly. Stuff like Twizzlers, cornbread, real hamburgers, the ocean, walking into a store and picking up what you want instead of asking for it . . .the list went on.

Now that I’ve been here nearly 13 years, the question doesn’t have the same weight. There was a time when I would yearn for things from Canada, sad that Guatemala didn’t have the basics that I was used to. Over the years, that’s changed. When someone asks me what I miss, I’m hard-pressed to remember things that I once would have traded my left arm for.

This is partially due to the fact that many things are available here now and they weren’t back in the day. Over a decade has passed and you can now find things like Bragg’s Amino acids, root beer and plenty of other once impossible items in the supermarket. And part of my lack of things to miss is that I’ve simply forgotten them or gotten used to the alternatives here.

Soy sauce was once the bane of my life in Guatemala. It was sweeter than I liked  and my sister would bring me bottles of China Lily when she came down. Now, I could care less. I’ll happily swap those bottles of China Lily for something else.

Things I still do vaguely miss, when I think of them, include:

  • Blueberries (though they are available here, but they’re crazy expensive)
  • Cherries
  • Real lemons, the yellow kind
  • Black forest ham
  • Dates
  • Libraries

Yes, it’s nearly all food. Funny how that works, isn’t it? But then again, if I were to move back to Canada, I would miss avocados, pitaya, pineapple and tamales an awful lot! I think food is very much a part of culture.

If you’d told me 12 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that I would stop missing things from my home country, I probably would have shaken my head adamantly and told you that you were terribly mistaken. But it’s true. After a while, things just don’t matter anymore. Sure, they’re nice to have, but they’re not pieces of home that cause you homesickness anymore.

I guess, if you live somewhere long enough, anything can become the norm!

Why My Children Are Allowed to Play Computer Games

There’s a lot of opinions out there against screen time for kids. I had a friend with a 9 year old who had no idea how to use a computer and I’ve seen many, many people criticizing parents for allowing their children to play computer games.

In our house, we’re gamers. That’s the way it is and I’m not going to apologize for it, for several reasons. First, it’s our decision as parents to let our kids have computer time. Second, we’ve actually found computer games to be beneficial in many ways. I know those are crazy words, but let’s take a look at some of the things my boys have learned from playing games.

1. How to Use a Computer

I think children MUST learn to use the computer these days. Not many jobs exist where you aren’t going to be using a computer at least a little. Not allowing children to gain valuable skills in technology is doing them a disservice in my opinion.

2. Language Skills

Yes, you can learn vocabulary from books and other methods, but I’ve seen quite the jump in vocabulary, thanks to my kids playing games. The in-game stories are often advanced and give them vocabulary you might not hear normally from an 8 and 9 year old.

3. Reading Skills

When my kids were just learning to read, they were reluctant to pick up a book. Give them a game, however, and they were all over it! Dorian looks up information online to read about games he enjoys and reading instructions kept them learning early on.

4. Reasoning and Strategy

There’s no shortage of reasoning and strategy when it comes to computer games. Yes, some are mindless and dumb. My boys find those kinds of games boring for the most part. They do love games where they have to plan out their moves and where they need to strategize.

5. Problem-solving Skills

Have you ever played a computer game where you were required to figure out a combination or assemble a puzzle in order to proceed to the next level? These are simple to an adult, but to a child who has yet to learn problem-solving, they can be incredible learning experiences.

6. Math Experience

When I was learning math, it took me forever. I wanted to know WHY I needed to know it. HOW was I going to use it? Well, my sons never ask those questions because they’re already using math and are fully aware of it. Dorian was multiplying and dividing, as well as skip counting long before he was learning it in school, simply because he needed it to pass his game levels.

7. Play Nicely with Others/Teamwork

Some games that the boys play are online and require them to work with other players. These games can be very challenging because they aren’t in control of everything. Learning to work with others can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary lesson. Dante has built houses with others in Minecraft, while Dorian has organized teams that head out to fight monsters. There are plenty of opportunities for learning in these games.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on these things. I know too much screen time is a bad thing and we do strive to keep something of a balance in our home. The boys have specific times they can play and the rest of their time is spent outdoors or crafting, reading, etc. Balance is key, as it is with everything.

Our favorite games include:

Minecraft: An excellent, open world game where you can collect resources, explore the world above and below ground, fight monsters and build awesome structures. There’s even some basic electricity included so you can wire your home or roller coaster.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof: This is a fun game that involves strategy and planning as you maneuver Potatoman through a series of obstacles. It’s a cute game, but keeps kids figuring out how to move forward.

Limbo: Dorian really likes darker, scarier games and Limbo is the perfect option for a kid who isn’t necessarily ready to play adult games, but wants something a little creepier than the average cartoon. It’s also extremely complicated and requires quite a bit of strategy to move through the various levels, including sequencing, strategy and planning ahead.

Enjoy Where You Are

When I first came to Guatemala, it was incredible. The beautiful greenery, the colorful dress of the local indigenous people, the bright colored fruit in the market. Everything was amazing and new and beautiful. Well, almost everything.

13 years on, it’s all pretty normal for me. I rush from task to task, schooling the boys, working on my articles and ebooks, hanging up the laundry, bringing in the laundry . . . without really taking the time to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

Recently, I noticed that I’ve been complaining a lot. The rain coming through the roof bugs me. There are a million things that irritate me about living in Guatemala and living in this particular house. I am always thinking of “when . . .”

“When we have enough money to build a house up the mountain . . . ”

“When the rain stops . . .”

“When the boys are older . . .”

Well, it just seems silly. If you’re always waiting for something to happen to make things better it will just end up being a lifetime of waiting, right?

So, I decided to make a point of enjoying the things around me. I do this already with the kids, knowing they’re growing up fast, but what about other things? So the past couple of mornings, instead of complaining about the heat, I thought about how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country and to enjoy weather that most people have to go on vacation to enjoy. :)

Here are a few pictures I took to remind myself of this.

Seriously, this place is gorgeous! I love living here.

What do you appreciate about where you live?

Setting the Table for Six

Since we had Dorian, I’ve felt that we should have four kids. It just felt right. When I set the table for five people, it felt like we were missing one. Why? I don’t know.

Originally, we planned to have another baby shortly after Dominic. The C-section changed that. It was a horrible experience and a very long recovery. Plus, the doctor said at least 18 months before I could get pregnant again (this was after he’d asked if I wanted my tubes tied while he was in there and I said no, we’re having another). On top of this, the possibility of having another C-section was enough to turn me off the idea of having any more kids . . . forever.

So three it is. And it feels like someone is missing still.

However, we’ve lately had Sofia 3 over nearly every day. She is a wonderful, rough and tumble little girl who has completely installed herself into our hearts. She’s completely at home here and will often turn to Irving or me when she’s hurt or upset, instead of her papa. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have this little one in our lives. I didn’t know it was possible to love someone else’s baby this much!

Now, we set our table for six or sometimes seven, if her papa is eating with us. The other day, we sat down with four children at the table and Irving looked at me and said, “This feels right.”

We thought we’d have four children of our own, but maybe the fourth is just borrowed.

The Past Two Weeks

Life is definitely a rollercoaster. There are times when it’s so awesome, you just can’t help but whoop. And then there are times when you just feel horrible and want the whole thing to stop so you can get off.

The past two weeks have been like that around here. Irving hasn’t had much work lately, which is usually fine, because I tend to have work when he doesn’t. And I did. But somehow, three of my regular clients just stopped paying me. Why? I’m not even sure. I did the work, sent it, and . . . crickets. It was actually four clients, but I managed to get one to pay.

Just after his birthday, Dante started to complain of stomach pain. It came and went, so we figured it was amoebas or something and gave him basil tea. It didn’t help and on the third day, he was in so much pain, he was doubled over crying and the pain was worse when his stomach was pressed. We rushed him to the doctor . . . only to find the doctor was on vacation. With a crying child in the backseat, we headed for the ER. After a somewhat traumatic exam, it was determined that he had an intestinal infection. We scraped up the cash to get his meds and headed home. On the way home, the car died and we got a phone call from our niece saying that Dorian was vomiting (he’d had an enema earlier). Talk about amping up the stress levels!

After about 10 minutes, Irving discovered that the battery connections were loose. With those fixed, the car started up and we took off for home. Fortunately, both boys recovered fairly quickly.

Hospital visits are never easy with children and for Irving and me, they can be a scary reminder of past visits. I can’t walk into Hospital Hermano Pedro without my stomach clenching and my heart starting to pound. Though it’s the hospital where Dominic was born, it will always be the place I ran into with a nearly lifeless child in my arms and that trauma apparently doesn’t fade! Fortunately, Dante doesn’t have those memories, so he was mostly bored while we sat around waiting for test results.

It’s been two weeks and my clients are still non-responsive. While Irving is picking up odd gigs here and there, life with two freelancers in the house can be . . . shall we say, challenging? ? In addition to the previously mentioned issues, our car is broken down and several other things have gone wrong. When it rains, it pours, right?

Fortunately, life is like a roller coaster. You have dips and twists and all manner of unpleasant downs, but there’s always an up again, at some point. Here’s to that up coming sooner, rather than later.

 

A Day in the Life

Wondering what life is like around here? It varies drastically, but here’s a look at a typical Monday in our home.

5 am: Older boys are up and bouncing around or making stuff in the main room. I get up because it’s Monday and I have bakery orders to fill!

6 am: Get kids working on school while I knead bread. First items are usually in the oven and we munch on the extras for breakfast or one of the older boys will make breakfast for everyone. Dominic bounces out of bed around this time. Put tea in the microwave.

7 am: Check emails, plan the day while bakery stuff is baking, teach kids science and make sure they understand their work. We often do experiments or they work with their electricity kit. Remember tea is in the microwave, reheat it.

8 am: Start responding to client emails and/or working on the day’s assignments. Do some jumping jacks and Follow the Leader with the kids to get our blood pumping.

9 am: Pack up the bakery goods for Irving to deliver. He heads out, boys ask if they can play computer and we negotiate an amount of time and a room cleaning before they can start. Remember the tea and heat it up again.

9:30 am: Sit down to really work on assignments, getting interrupted every few minutes to check something in the boys’ room, chase a lizard out of the house or get a snack for someone. Cat wanders in, wanting to know why he hasn’t been fed for the tenth time yet. Finally finish my tea.

10 am: Get a call from Irving wondering where the new customer is, he can’t find their house. Give him directions from Google Maps. Get morning snack for starving children (and cat).

11 am: Irving is back just in time to take over child-wrangling while I get on Skype to discuss a project with a client. She wonders if my children are okay, hearing them yelling in the background at a computer game.

12 pm: Realize that it’s lunchtime, thanks to Dominic whining beside me on the bed. Rush to make lunch for everyone and enjoy a few minutes of boy humor at the table before shooing them outside to enjoy the sunshine before the rain hits.

12:30 pm: Back to writing.

3 pm: My niece, Sofia, shows up with her dad, who needs to run some errands. Get her and Dominic set up with paints in the kitchen and move the computer to the living room so I can keep an eye on things. Put some rice in the crockpot for dinner and alternate between proofreading a client’s book and preventing paint from flying all over the house as toddlers fight over the water dish.

3:30 pm: Snacks must be had or everyone will surely perish. Popcorn is on the agenda and everyone settles in to watch a movie while I respond to emails and check my social media.

3:40 pm: Toddlers lose interest in the movie and decide to move into the boys’ room, where they promptly get into everything they shouldn’t. Spend time cleaning up after them and getting them to play out in the main room with a few select toys.

4 pm: Work on my essential oils site for a bit, realize that it’s almost supper time and recruit the older boys to chop veggies for it. Wash Sofia’s face and hands, which are somehow black, before her papa picks her up and give her and Dominic some carrot sticks to tide them over until dinner.

5 pm: Dinner! More fart jokes abound, along with some interesting anecdotes about the ducks and chickens next door. Dominic gets up in the middle of dinner to spend a couple of minutes spinning before returning to eat. Sometimes, you just have to move!

6 pm: Irving washes up while the kids use up their remaining energy by running the circuit through the house and patio and yelling at the top of their lungs. I start herding them, one by one, to the shower.

7 pm: Bedtime for Dominic! Stories for all and a dab of “sleepy oil” (lavender) and he’s off to bed. The older boys stay up reading or drawing in their room. I spend my time checking social media and going over client messages for the next day.

8 pm: Big kids are in bed. Irving puts on a TV show for us to watch together as I work on mindless tasks, like adding products to my online catalog or adding tags to a client project.

9 pm: Chat on Skype with one of my salespeople and discuss what we can do this week to increase sales. Lay out plans for an oil event on Saturday and list everything that needs to be done before then.

10 pm: Write a blog post for The Family Oils while watching another show with Irving.

11 pm: Bed.